No Writing Today
Just research. In fact, as much as work as I have to put into these particular novels, one of the delights of the work is the research. What I look for in the books I read about regular people in those time (the more obscure the better) is the telling detail, the little facts or quirks or annoyances of daily living that help make that time period feel real and relatable to anyone who’s entered my story.
The joy of research is in discovering something like this:
“A police officer stands next to a member of the “Black Legion,” an underground organization separated from the Ku Klux Klan and actively fought blacks, Jews and Catholics. Its members practiced ritual murder, in its ranks were more than 10,000 people. 1936” I’d never heard of this group, and yet they were a force to be feared by some in Southern California. As I had Orlando say in Book Three, “Hell does not appear to be limited in its ingenuity.”
I can’t recall exactly when I developed my love for history, but I am fairly certain it was learned from my father. Dad grew up pretty damn poor in rural Florida. My grandfather did a lot of different kinds of work to keep the family fed, and at fifteen my dad was helping out, delivering moonshine from time to time.
My father is a smart guy, and looked around at the opportunities in that little town of Stark (“perfect description of the place” he once told me), Florida and knew he needed to get out. At 17, he joined the Air Force and changed his life. His own story might have been the one that ingrained in me the belief we can always make ourselves and our positions better, if we’re willing to pay what it costs in time, sweat, and blood.
Regardless, some of my clearest memories are of watching movies (that were old then) on a black and white television, and listening to him tell me the stories behind the films. Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, who in reality was really a damn fine Olympic Swimmer. And, better than that, there were books about Tarzan, written by a guy named Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Or, when we were traveling across the United States––as one’s family was known to do when a member of the US Air Force––Dad would tell me about the settlers who’d crossed those long wide plains in covered wagons. The paths they’d taken, the battles they’d fought against indigenous people, outlaws, even germs. “And he loved her so much, he walked across the US to find her again.”
Man, those weren’t just random facts, those were stories of real people, folks with dreams and feelings not so different than my own. More than that, it was about lives that had meaning and purpose, lives worthy of emulating.
Got all that from my father. So now, when I’m reading new books (or, new-to-me books) for historical background, I often think “Dad is gonna love this one.” And it takes me back to when I was a kid. It’s a great feeling. I end up setting books aside for when I’m finished with the novel, and I look forward to sending them to him so we can talk about them together.